Baby, we were born to run
I have never been one to read running books. It was with some pride that I recently wrote a blog post refusing the label “runner,” claiming that I didn’t have the passion for the sport that real runners did. It wasn’t about lack of confidence in my abilities; I simply preferred to think of myself as one who ran for exercise and the thrill of achieving goals than one who really cared about the actual running part. Diligently hit the track and roads with my stopwatch, week in and week out? Sure. Think about running, read about running, live for running? No, thanks.
So when I picked up a copy of Born to Run a few weeks ago, it was more out of obligation than anything else. If people were going to read what I had to say about running, then surely I owed it to them to be informed about the biggest book to hit the running world in years.
I opened the book for the first time on an airplane, figuring if nothing else, the lack of alternative forms of entertainment would keep me reading it. Two hours and ninety pages later, I was a runner.
If you think the true story of a primitive tribe whose members routinely run 100-plus mile races through the jungle wearing nothing but thin strips of rubber to protect their feet doesn’t exactly sound like a page-turner, you’re not alone. Sure, it’s intriguing, but a whole book about it?
Christopher McDougall’s book, though, isn’t just about the Tarahumara tribe of superhuman athletes. It’s about the fast-growing subculture of ultramarathoners, endurance junkies for whom 26.2 miles just doesn’t scratch the itch. It’s about barefoot running, a return to our running roots whose converts believe it actually prevents the injuries that sideline eighty percent of runners each year. And most importantly, it’s about loving to run. Running, not for the sake of exercise or stress relief or even racing, but for the sake of running. For the sake of connecting with the earth, our ancestors, and our fellow man.
I’m trying hard not to sound melodramatic, and to some extent I’m failing. And so does the author, who goes just a little overboard with the running-is-love bit. But McDougall does not fail in conveying his message that there is something about running that lies deep in our makeup. Evolution has long been thought to have favored the quick and speedy, not those who could jog the longest. But Born to Run presents a view of early humans as hunters who survived because of their ability to endure and outlast their prey, and there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea. From that standpoint, it makes sense that running is something we’re born to do. And that could explain why in times of distress, people turn to running en masse. Just look at the distance-running booms of the Great Depression and the early-2000’s. We run because it makes us feel good. We run because it’s in our blood.
Born to Run isn’t going to transform couch potatoes into ultra-runners. I think the fire for running, even if only as a means to stay healthy, is something you have to light yourself. But one thing the book can do is turn casual runners into passionate ones. Before I read to Born to Run, running was something I had to do, not something I ever wanted to do. I would choose a race, set a training schedule, and essentially put things on autopilot. I did the workouts but nothing more, and I did my best to focus on the goal, not the process.
But now it’s different. When I got off that plane, the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was hit the treadmill. (And yes, for me, it’s still the dreadmill.) Just three miles. 8:00, 7:30, and 6:20. 6:20, five days after running a marathon. I don’t do 6:20 miles for fun. And yet on this day, I did. For the first time in my life, I wanted to run. And I defy you to read Born to Run and do otherwise.
By Matt Frazier